Besides Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) telling inhabitants of the Mid-Atlantic state this week that they have ‘no constitutional right‘ to refuse wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor has also dispatched “compliance units” to enforce coronavirus safety measures at businesses, including bars and restaurants.
Starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Maryland State Police and local officials will combine forces in “high-visibility compliance units” to monitor capacity levels, mask-wearing, and social distancing at bars and restaurants, reported WBAL TV.
For the first time since June, the state recorded 32 new virus-related deaths in a single day – also reporting 4,325 new cases – adding to total cases of more than 185,000. The positivity rate of 6.6%, makes it a red zone state.
After months of declining cases, the resurgent virus has forced Hogan to reimpose harsh restrictions on businesses and deploy compliance units that will start in Baltimore and Frederick counties.
“We don’t look to shut down places immediately, and in some areas of the state, we will have the health department with us; however, again, it is about educating, see if we can get that business into compliance,” Maryland State Police Sgt. Travis Nelson said.
Last week, Hogan said the virus was beginning to ravage the state:
“We are in a war right now, and the virus is winning. Now more than ever, I am pleading with the people of our state to stand together a while longer to help us battle this surging virus,” he said.
Compliance units are expected to operate statewide in the near term. State troopers will work with local health departments and liquor board inspectors to enforce new restrictions.
“The intent is really to find the major violators of these public health orders,” Nelson said.
A business operator who breaches the new public health measures could face a $5k fine and possibly one year in jail.
“If somebody is intentionally violating the orders, we are going to give them a written notice that says this is what you have to do if you want to stay open,” Nelson said. “If that is violated, then the health department will issue a closure order. At that point, the business is required to remain closed until such time the health department feels that it is safe for them to reopen.”
While many small businesses in the state have been devastated by the virus pandemic shutdowns – the question remains just how many business operators will follow the new rules, or if some are willing to incur the $5k fine and risk jail just to keep the cash flow coming in amid a covid winter the threatens many with imminent bankruptcy.
Months ago, a Maryland man was sentenced to one year in jail for a series of pandemic parties he hosted in late March.